This summer, the Donor By Design Team is considering new ways grow the relationship with our donors… moving beyond the thank you note to a deeper connection. Today’s topic: how do you cultivate enduring donor love?
After a recent Capital Campaign Leadership Cabinet meeting, one of the volunteers asked everyone to stop on the way out and look at a large bronze plaque in the lobby. He proudly pointed to his grandfather’s name halfway down the list of community leaders who served on the campaign leadership cabinet in the late 1950s when they raised the funds to construct the building we were standing in that morning.
He then asked us to turn around and look at the plaque on the opposite wall that recognized the volunteers who led the fundraising effort to expand and renovate the building in the mid-1980s. It was easy to spot his father’s name on the top row under the title “Campaign Chairman”.
The pride he displayed in telling us about his family’s long history of service to the community was moving. He said he wanted all of us to know that being part of the current campaign leadership cabinet was obviously more than just another volunteer assignment for him; it was a part of his family’s legacy.
Since the current facility will eventually be torn down, he asked that both of the old plaques be moved and prominently displayed in the new building they were working hard to fund. He suggested that they be placed next to the new recognition plaque where his name will be listed. He went on to explain that he wanted his family legacy to inspire his children and grandchildren to give back to their community in significant ways.
That experience reminded me how important it is to recognize and thank donors and volunteers in the present in ways that can also serve to educate and inspire future generations.
Many nonprofits have done a wonderful job honoring and telling stories about the people who supported them in their early years. Some also take special care to regularly and publicly demonstrate their gratitude for those who had the foresight and generosity to establish and sustain the nonprofit organizations that continue to do relevant work today.
Unfortunately there are other nonprofits that haven’t been as diligent about maintaining records and passing down stories of those who created and sustained them in the past. Because of that, current leaders don’t know much about their organization’s historical heritage let alone have the ability to share that with others. However, putting a little extra time and effort into uncovering and reconnecting with the past can be very worthwhile.
While it may seem like a daunting task, just taking a few small steps can lead to many surprising discoveries and open the door to some new relationships. For example, a nonprofit with a facility often has keys to the past right out in the open. They are often passed by unnoticed everyday. Leaders can start unlocking the forgotten stories of the past by inviting long-time staff and volunteers to walk around the building and talk about people they remember whose names are on old recognition plaques or who have their name on a room or section of the facility. Or take a box of old photos from the bottom drawer of an old filing cabinet and visit with former board members and trustees and ask them to reminisce about people they recognize.
Once you uncover some names and stories, ask for an introduction. Perhaps there will be those who are still living who will be flattered that someone wants to know how and why they became so involved “back in the day” and will be thrilled to be remembered and thanked again for their generosity. In other cases, find a way to meet the descendents and listen to their stories. In most situations they will be moved that their ancestor’s hard work and/or contributions are still appreciated and that they continue to benefit others.
Two recognition plaques hung in the lobby of a building constructed 60+ years ago and renovated three decades after that, motivated one man to connect to his family’s rich history of giving back. Another recognition plaque that will someday hang next to them, albeit in a different building, will inspire future generations to take up the family legacy of service. Now that’s enduring donor love!